Man’s Hope is an epic novel about the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. During this bloody conflict, sometimes regarded as a dress rehearsal for World War II, the Fascist elements of the Spanish military and the Catholic church, under the leadership of the Falangist dictator Francisco Franco, were supported vigorously by Benito Mussolini’s Italy and Adolf Hitler’s Germany and overthrew the leftist Republican government of Spain which was supported by the Soviet Union and by individual citizens of the Western European nations.
André Malraux was among many anti-Fascist Europeans who volunteered to fight for the Republicans, and he played a significant role as an organizer of the International Squadron of aircraft for the Republic. Malraux’s experiences in Spain went into the writing of Man’s Hope, which contains more than seventy named characters and provides a panoramic view of the war from the Republican vantage. Written in the heat of battle and published while the war was still raging, it depicts the events of 1936-1937 as an adventure of the human spirit within a framework of historical, political, and philosophical ideas.
The novel is divided into three parts, and the first two of these parts are themselves divided into two sections. The first part is titled “Careless Rapture” and its first section bears the same title. This title keynotes the optimistic and carefree mood of the Republican militia and their international volunteer comrades during the first summer of the Civil War. The action begins in Madrid on July 18, 1936, and the reader follows the adventures of Manuel, a neophyte Communist, as he participates rather unthinkingly though successfully in the anti-Fascist fighting. This fighting takes place amid fists clenched in the leftist salute and street singing that keynotes the lyric impulse of a folk movement against tyranny.
The scene swiftly shifts from Madrid to Barcelona, where the Anarchists form a surprising coalition with the Civil Guard (commanded by Colonel Ximenes, a devout Christian) to defeat the Falangists. In Barcelona, the singing of Madrid is replaced by the no-less lyrical strains of the factory sirens, symbolic of the workers’ power. The further successes of the Republicans are relayed to the reader through Manuel, fighting in the countryside, and through Colonel Magnin (the French volunteer who organizes the Republicans’ International Squadron) as he successfully recruits volunteers and leads a raid on Medellin.
Beneath the surface of this uprising, Malraux also strikes a more sober note, pointing to a need for structuring and organizing the elation of a popular movement. There is too much carelessness and waste of life, as shown in Manuel’s smoking as he drives a car loaded with explosives, in the unnecessary kamikaze tactics of the Anarchists, in the boyish antics of some of Magnin’s airmen, in the insensitivity of a youngster who dips his finger into the blood of an executed Falangist to write Republican slogans on a wall.
This sobriety deepens in the second section of part 1, entitled “Prelude to Apocalypse,” which concerns the mismanagement of the emotions of the Republican movement. The illusionary nature of the lyric impulse is primarily shown through the failure of the Republican siege of the Alcazar (castle) of Toledo. Seasonally, summer has changed to autumn, and the dominant atmosphere is no longer that of singing but of funereal flamencos and Wagnerian Valkyrie wailings heard amid the stench of decomposing flesh. The first failure of Magnin’s squadron occurs as Jaime Alvear, a most likable member, is blinded during a sortie.
Malraux focuses on Captain Hernandez, who is apparently in charge of the siege of the Alcazar. Hernandez is a former Alcazar cadet and professional soldier who chooses the Republican side because of his ideology, which is rooted in a conviction about individual freedoms. He is unable to organize the besiegers, especially the Anarchists, into a disciplined force, and his characteristic gesture becomes a shrug of the shoulders. When the Falangist relief column approaches the Alcazar, Hernandez’s men abandon their posts and retreat hastily to Madrid, but Hernandez, playing the part of a sacrificial victim, fights a gallant delaying action with a few good soldiers and is captured and executed. Hernandez’s death underlines the analysis of Spanish Intelligence Officer Garcia (an erstwhile professor of...
(The entire section is 1831 words.)